Infrastructure: ‘Will it be a chicken in every pot? Or potholes on every street?’

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Greg Markley

By Greg Markley

In 1928, Republicans developed the slogan, “A chicken in every pot” for their presidential candidate, Herbert Hoover. It was meant to convince voters that the GOP and Hoover would build a “prosperity platform” for U.S. citizens. Hoover won in a landslide, 58% – 41% over New York Gov. Al Smith. (The Prohibition Party candidate, William Frederick Varney, captured 1%.)

The infrastructure bill Congress is debating is comprehensive. It offers not “A chicken in every pot” but $2.3 trillion to improve roads, bridges, rail systems, the aging electric grid and more. Politico writers Sarah Ferris and Marianne LeVine note that key questions are: “how far Democrats should go, how to pay for it and how to logistically get it to the president’s desk.”

Whenever there is a new president and a new Congress, the likeliest area in which bipartisanship may work is “infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.” But when a major program is offered, the devil is in the details. It’s bad for the country that so much bipartisan initiatives are unsuccessful. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R.-TX) relates a rare case when bipartisanship was not just a pipe dream:

“The Violence Against Women Act has been a true bipartisan success story since first enacted in 1994,” Cornyn said. “In my home state of Texas alone, its programs have helped hundreds of thousands of victims to break free from the terrible cycle of domestic violence.” Beyond this, bipartisanship has been a dud. I hope they agree soon to repair our crumbling infrastructure.

President Biden has gone where Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama hesitated to go. Bush 41 accepted that he did not have “the vision thing,” for domestic projects. Yet in foreign affairs, especially during the Gulf War, he is regarded highly by historians. President Obama, hobbled by the Great Recession, was cautious by nature so did not undertake big infrastructure plans. But Joe Biden is lucky that both the House and Senate are Democratic.
Politicians typically focus on their next election, even in a “secure” House or Senate seat. They should keep roads, bridges, etc. in good shape before a disaster. Example #1: Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 storm that claimed 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage in August 2005. With infrastructure changes, levees and flood walls in New Orleans might have held up.

Example #2: The 40-year-old I-35 Mississippi River Bridge was an eight-lane steel truss bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. An average of 140,000 vehicles crossed daily. The bridge had a terrible failure, tied to poor design. It occurred at evening rush hour, Aug. 1, 2007. Thirteen people died and 145 were hurt. With better infrastructure, lives could have been saved and injuries prevented.

If the federal government does have infrastructure improvements, many people hope the dreaded “potholes” will be filled up, too. That is unlikely because local governments tend to pay for road repairs such as potholes, within their jurisdiction. The other reason is that there is a multitude of potholes and fixing them all would take time and money. And that pursuit would mean you were combating not just potholes, but “rabbit holes.”

Wisconsin, Ohio and New York have the most pothole problems, says Tires Plus. “Wisconsin’s typical winter weather creates a vicious cycle of new potholes all winter. The state sees dozens of inches of snow a year, but temperatures can vary — meaning heaps of snow can melt, sink into roads and refreeze within a matter of days or even hours. Add in salt trucks and snowplows, and there’s the perfect recipe for worn roads and potholes.” They “badger” the state.

In Ohio, popular photos on social media show giant potholes frustrating drivers. New York not only has the usual snow and rain that makes potholes develop, but millions of vehicles and ever-present construction is making residents sour on The Big Apple. Famous people have commented about potholes: Tom Wilson, cartoonist, said, “Mondays are the potholes in the road of life.”

Actress Drew Barrymore said: “Oh, I would love to be a motivational speaker. I have pulled myself out of a million potholes, and I can see the potholes ahead of me.” Subramanian Swamy, an Indian politician, states that “India’s infrastructure is pathetic, with frequent electric power breakdowns even in metropolitan cities, dangerously unhealthy water supply in urban areas, a galloping rate of HIV infection and gaping potholes that dot our national highways.”

It is very unlikely that infrastructure bills will delight people with the saying “A chicken in every pot” as in 1928. That would be too progressive or even socialist to legislators. But if all this talk about fixing roads, bridges, etc. makes headway, perhaps the government will take on potholes. For Alabamians, the lack of icy winters and giant traffic keeps most potholes at bay.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 9 years.  gm.markley@charter.net.

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